Millennials are lazy, entitled narcissists dubbed the "me, me, me generation." At least that's what the media has made us believe over the years.
This fascination with Millennials has spawned a whole new industry of experts telling us that "Millennials are different."
But are they really? And should we really treat them any differently?
Research has a resounding answer to that question.
An analyst at Work Effects, Amanda Kreun, says its a big assumption -- unsupported by empirical evidence -- to think that Millennials are distinctly different than other generations.
The characteristics of Millennials we read about in those well-designed infographics are really a function of age common among young employees entering the workforce, says Kreun -- herself a Millennial -- in her report.
Apparently, little has changed over the last 30 years. "Young people today tend to see themselves and their work environments in a similar way as did young people from previous generations," wrote Kreun.
Bruce Pfau, an corporate H.R. advisor and KPMG partner, agrees. He cites numerous studies in his Harvard Business Review article, What Do Millennials Really Want at Work? The Same Things the Rest of Us Do.
"A growing body of evidence suggests that employees of all ages are much more alike than different in their attitudes and values at work. To the extent that any gaps do exist, they amount to small differences that have always existed between younger and older workers throughout history and have little to do with the Millennial generation per se."
What we all want, regardless of age.
Now that we have dispelled the notion that Millennials require different things than Gen Xers or Boomers, it is inherently human of all of us to want (and need) certain things for our emotional well-being in the workplace.
This is especially true for how leaders influence, support, and motivate their troops to do good work. This is where I see so much damage being done, to any generational employee.
Case in point, according to James K. Harter, Ph.D., Gallup's chief scientist for workplace management, at least 75 percent of the reasons for costly voluntary turnover come down to things that managers can influence.
In another study of 7,272 U.S. adults, Gallup found that 50 percent of employees left their job "to get away from their manager to improve their overall life at some point in their career."
So what do managers need to do to stop disengagement and low morale in all their workers, regardless of generation? In my own research and observations over the years, five leadership habits float to the top.
1. Leaders that pay attention to workers.
One way to severely discourage and disengage employees of any generation is to treat them as if they're invisible. As a manager, if you're hoping to keep people engaged, get ready to start talking about their work -- a lot. And not the kind of conversation that happens only once a year in those dinosaur-era performance evaluations. The focus should be on making your feedback shorter, more frequent, and constructive. This is what every high-performing employee wants.
2. Leaders that recognize their people.
Did you know that receiving recognition is the most important performance motivator? Sure, a paycheck or a bonus is good, but that money will be spent tomorrow. But being recognized in front of the organization for the hard work that you put in? That's gold, because everyone can then see the value that you're bringing.
3. Leaders that provide leadership advancement.
Contrary to the false impression that Millennials are lazy and unmotivated, research has proven that they are very much interested in leadership positions and rapid career advancement. But here's the thing: So are people from every other generation -- it's innate in the best of us to want to grow and develop as human beings! Key point here: Ambitious and motivated people of every generation value the opportunity to influence the organization for which they work.
4. Leaders that give their people decision-making privileges.
Want to build employee loyalty across generational lines? Simple: Allow them a seat at the table to make decisions and exercise influence over things that matter in the business. Think of projects, tasks, and meetings about strategy, mission, and culture in which you can involve your most valued workers, whether they're 26 or 62.
5. Leaders that provide workers with opportunities to serve their community.
According to the 2015 Millennial Impact Report conducted by Achieve, Millennial employees love to volunteer for a worthy cause. And so do other generations; good people with the best of intentions want to make the world a better place locally. To up the ante, offer volunteering opportunities as a perk to keep people' skills sharp while giving back to the community. It's a win-win.
It's time we stop talking about how different Millennials are in the workplace and reinforcing false generalizations about a whole generation. The truth is, we all want what Millennials want:
- Meaning and purpose in our work.
- Regular feedback from our bosses.
- Career development opportunities in companies that will invest in us.
- Recognition for doing good work.
- Freedom to make our own choices.
This obsession with Millennials distracts companies and its leaders from the real work -- creating profitable ecosystems where all generational employees can't wait to show up for work on Monday, and where all customers want their business.